Chapter 2 of the current book I’m writing. Each chapter is relatively self contained and this provides quite nice ending up to this point. You may wish to read the first chapter first.
“I’m in the wrong genre”, Keandre said to himself. He looked around the section of the bookshop. The character close by didn’t fulfil an ‘other’ alternative-type so the idea of being lost in the wrong genre didn’t have the quirky kick Keandre would have been after if he were directing a sit-com based upon his own life. But he wasn’t.
This was the fantasy section, the section of epic stories and fables. Keandre mused rather redundantly that the mundane nature of his life established the irony of his sitcom statement. He paused to try to force the moment to ‘hang in the air’: would time prove an endless drudgery of disappointment, a pallid little affair in the face of so called epic stories? He didn’t really believe it would or wouldn’t, he didn’t really believe in these moments.
When Keandre looked back five or more years he saw himself as a young person full of ideas. He remembered having so many ideas about things to write, films to make and art to produce that he recalled being quite perverse about them. He used to take delight in not recording any of the ideas he had because he was confident there would be more. But then the ideas had dried up and come almost to a stop. The perverse attitude didn’t dry up however and he felt some relief at the prospect that he might have already wasted his talent; it kind of took some pressure off. Or, at least he felt that way at times. At other times he despaired in a weak way – nothing for a decent opera – that he could have passively allowed this to happen. Aren’t ideas the soul and energy of an intelligent life?
A new theory he had, which offered some relief, was this: He hadn’t become less creative but had become less naive. The apparently endless stream of ideas had relied upon a particularly soft, innocent mental incubator. A warm mental flesh had nurtured so many of little fluffy gems. As a young man he’d had an implicit vision of a kind of hyper-auspicious context for whatever fantasies and dreams for life he might have; he had believed there was always going to be support for his ideas. But in reality the fluffy little gems did not have a chance of survival outside. They would contract various illnesses and bloat and deform or maybe their fragile little bodies would simply go blue and limp in the damp cold, before rotting and stinking. Perhaps this was why he had been so withdrawn in some aspects of his life at that time, he’d been hiding his little livestock for fear of its destruction.
In some ways this new theory was a social theory of ideas. Outside the “cute chick” analogies he currently imported, it was a theory that suggested that although it might seem we can think about anything, we test the strength and durability of ideas against our socially informed understanding of reality: ‘A reality warped by capital and bullies and others’, Keandre concluded to himself. And then, ‘the brain is an organ that grows like a flower in the light of a constructed reality: fragile, delicate, adaptive’.
These internal conversations seemed important at the time of them happening. But Keandre already felt that this one was fading, the feeling was passing and with it the sense of it all was dissipating.
“Blah!” Keandre screeched under his breath in order to try to clear his thoughts. A woman who he hadn’t noticed nearby gave him a glance and then returned to her book.
Keandre had piles of unread books back at the flat in Edinburgh, so he didn’t feel he could buy anything. It would just add the oppression to think that more information was going to be consumed. Besides, he didn’t really have any money and what money he did have was really his parents’.
Keandre moved up a floor and browsed through popular science. Then he swung on to philosophy, scanning titles and covers like an addict. Nothing here today that he just had to read (and that would then just sit on a shelf unread).
Another customer was following a member of staff through the shop. The member of staff was a young man who looked slightly flustered, but at the same time confident in his own knowledge of the store’s stock. The man following him had large curly hair leading into a floating, groomed beard. ‘Grooming does not prevent floating’, Keandre muttered to himself. Like an emperor the man pushed his head back and strode forward. In an American accent he said, “I have over two thousand books in my collection, I’m surprised you suggested one I didn’t know”.
Keandre was of the belief that genuine intelligence was not related to the amount of books you could accumulate, although you might not guess that looking at his own collection: one of many contradictions. Likewise, accumulating knowledge seemed, to Keandre, different from having a creative intelligence. This pompous man annoyed him. He was the sort who would no doubt retain the facts of the many books he had read and thereby gain a certain power in conversation. But this kind of cache, ‘cultural cash’, didn’t interest Keandre.
Keandre checked his watch. It was time to meet Eilis in the cafe. He moved off through the shop, quick but internally fatigued and bored. Before he stepped out in to the upper floor where the cafe was he unbuttoned the top part of his shirt, untucked half of it from his trousers and put on his glasses, at a slant.
“Hey, did you see anything you liked?” Keandre asked as he walked up to Eilis and kissed her cheek.
“What happened to you?” she asked, bemused.
“I got roughed up”, Keandre muttered. Then, realising he didn’t have any energy for acting this out any further he just chuckled, took off his glasses and sorted out his shirt.
“I don’t really have any money to buy anything with”, Eilis continued, ignoring the odd game.
“Yeah, me too. But we’ll still get a coffee yeah?”
The two ordered double-tall-lattes and sat down.
“This cafe isn’t as good as it used to be”, Eilis commented. “I used to work in a cafe. A cafe, er, no. This cafe used to be the same company who ran the one I worked for.”
“Yes”, said Keandre with impatience.
“The worst thing was frying eggs for people. It was so hot and everyone wanted their eggs a different way. And however you made them they’d never be happy. I’d have to get changed really quickly when I got home because my clothes would smell. It’s a shame all the cafes closed though because they were, you know, part of the city. My mum used to love the scones they’d do there.
“By the way my mum was really pleased you liked her scones. It gave her a boost. At work when she makes dinners for the school kids she really tries hard to make things fresh. She was doing that kind of Jamie Oliver thing for a long time. But the people she works with don’t really appreciate it. Hey, what did I just say?”
Keandre had a bad habit of not listening, lost in his own thoughts. “Er, sorry, I was thinking about something. Go on.”
“No, it doesn’t matter now. That’s so rude you know. I wouldn’t just switch off when you were talking. Why don’t you say if you’re not listening?”
“But I’m not aware that I’m not listening. I hear you talking but my mind doesn’t switch over.” Keandre sat back feeling lousy. They’d had this conversation time and time again.
“But you nod and hint that you are listening so you must know I’m talking.”
“I know you’re talking, but I can’t respond to it. It’s like you know you are dreaming at night but you can’t do anything about it.”
This is what he’d been thinking about:
Certain philosophic schemes, which Keandre had been interested in, hold that things cannot be understood by logic alone. Logic imposes certain structures on the world around us. Whereas a housing estate might be designed following a certain plan, for example (structured) it is also is a living thing that changes and has to be sustained. Logic is on the side of ‘the understandable’, the permanent and universal; on the other side there are nonsensical things, transient things and things that have a specific sensibility. Intuition is often the only way in to this latter reality.
One philosopher had used the image of sediment being washed down a river bed, which had stayed with Keandre. The particles of sediment are mobile and free to move, constellations of different minerals constantly in the process of becoming something. As they settle they form layers and lines, patterns. With the accrual of sediment the bottom layers compress and become harder and fixed, the layers forming more permanent rock structures. Keandre felt this was like the human world, with the free motion of individual people – living people – being elated by the ripples and undulations of a fresh current, but being slowly locked into structures and patterns by the weight, the masses, of society … tending towards fixity.
Keandre wanted to be on the side of the living, but he knew that his constantly open and re-forming attitude disadvantaged him. Academia, the rough area he was supposedly ‘in’, tended to try to fix things, to build – to use another building metaphor – a solid foundation for knowledge. What might be mistaken for a fickleness or even laziness on Keandre’s part, he had reasoned, was actually his appreciation that an intuitive understanding of the more fleeting forces at work: the moisture or heat infecting that foundation was also important. In fact, he felt the foundation, like an archive or museum, was like a mausoleum, and actually reflected a certain kind of death. Structure is like a building abandoned by inhabitants; he sought the soft warm bodies of those beautiful beings whose fleeting hopes and desires had once been there.
Keandre wasn’t out for power or control, but wanted to tap these other subtle aspects of the world. “But this is difficult”, he would say quite often in less desultory conversations with himself, “because power lies with permanence. Power lies in the fortresses built, the legal and binding documents, the writing over the conversations, the epitaphs over the lost witticism”.
Yes, other academics, if that is what he was, would also champion the transient nature of the world; of course he wasn’t unique but they would and could ‘champion it’ from a position of authority, having earned certain brownie points. And somehow, he recoiled from this and much to his own excruciating disadvantage.
‘Where does this leave me? Unknowing? Uncertain? Weak? But I avoid falling into the trap of exercising familiar types of power, don’t I? Of course, I can’t be sure because I don’t allow myself assurance. It’s a fucking nightmare’.
“You’re not listening again!” Eilis snapped, pulling Keandre out of this little elusive pocket of thought. As was his perverse habit, Keandre allowed the thoughts again to slide into the muddy depths. He felt profoundly bored, superfluous. Eilis felt he was rude and that he got bored with her. He had said as much once, they both remembered. But that wasn’t really the case, he simply had such a long distance to travel from his own insipid but damn coercive thoughts that he was left unable to properly engage life.
“I’m really sorry”, Keandre exclaimed. He genuinely meant it, but still felt a dull, numb ache. Keandre moved forward to cut the two cakes they had bought. He pushed a plate towards Eilis with his head bowed, looking up into her eyes and playing ironically at being the wounded puppy. She smiled.
Later, back in town, the two of them walked around the City Hall. Eilis was proud to show off the grand building. They walked past the Linen Hall Library, a Clements and towards the Europa Hotel.
“Cabbage Head!” someone called out to Keandre randomly.
Eilis and Keandre looked at each other and, once the group of guys from which the statement had been flung had moved on, laughed to each other. Keandre ran his hand through his large, unkempt, bushy hair. If he was ever going to subscribe to an ‘us vs. them’ attitude it would likely be in relation to chemically charged groups of ‘lads’: uniform with crew cuts, shirts and jeans, stinking of masculine brands of aftershave like the stench of testosterone: the desire to be loud, chauvinist stags. ‘Maybe that’s a bit harsh’, thought Keandre.
Eilis showed Keandre the Crown bar, famous for its tiled mosaic interior. Keandre would later be told that the bar was made by labourers who were working on the City Hall. The bar was their kind of recreational activity.
After a quick glance at the interior of the Crown they returned to the centre of town to catch a bus, talking as they walked.
“You used to have to go through security checks on the way in and out of town. I was once on a bus when the windows were smashed in with stones”, Eilis told Keandre.
“You must have been terrified”, Keandre softly replied.
“I suppose I was at the time, but generally I wasn’t really. You got used to it after a while. It was just the way it was. The bomb scares, the stories you’d hear about people. I only realised how odd it had been when I came to Edinburgh and realised that not all police drive armoured Land Rovers and that most people don’t grow up and have the army stationed in their gardens – at times.”
“Did anyone you know ever get killed?” Keandre asked.
“I was once in school and er, well, actually there were two occasions. Once I was in the cloak room with a girl when the principal came along. The principal said that she needed someone to help her with something and she picked the girl that was standing next to me. The girl’s dad had been shot dead, I suppose the principal just needed a way to take her aside without creating panic. There was another time when we all heard something that sounded like gunshot. The teacher probably know – knew – what it was but told us that there was a scrap heap near the school and that the banging had probably come from there, something being banged around. Againthe principal came in to the class and took a girl out. Her brother had been shot eight times. He actually lived. The other girl’s dad was dead though.”
“Fuck”, Keandre said.
Eilis wasn’t being down about it, but fairly matter-of-fact. The city had changed a lot since then. They were near the bus stop now and so slowed down. She curled up her lip as she had a habit of doing in conversation when giving things a ‘that’s how things are’ spin. Keandre wasn’t sure whether he liked the lip thing, it seemed self deprecating at times and could be read as Eilis’ apparent shyness and lack of self esteem. Keandre thought she was beautiful though, but she didn’t know it. He wanted her to know it and believe it, but wondered if he might have selfish motivations for that too; Eilis’ lack of confidence sometimes seemed to impact upon their sex life and adventurousness in the bedroom. The sex they had, when they had it, was always very tender, mutual and loving.
“I guess that’s why I never got into politics. I know a lot of people do in those situations, but I kind of wanted to avoid it. I hate all the anger and stuff that comes with it”, Eilis concluded.
“Mmm.” Keandre mused ambiguously. There was something in this that connected to his own ideas about the transient, intuitive things in life, but he didn’t see it that way when considering someone else’s statement and had a clearer ‘tutor’ sense that it might be a bad attitude to avoid political engagement and should be better informed. Eilis knew much more about however than he did.
Keandre had been watching the buses all day. They were a bright pink, which, in what seemed to Keandre to be recently demilitarised zones, had a camp joyous feel about them that seemed quite exciting. Here came the 34 which would take them back to Eilis’ parents.
On the bus Eilis and Keandre sat close. They were both feeling a blanket of sadness descend upon them; this was the last night before going home. But still, Keandre was starting to think of the evening ahead. He was building it up in his mind, indulging a sense of anticipation. The mythical evening would be an alcohol fuelled trip to the edges of understanding with Eilis’ parents. Her dad had already demonstrated an ability to talk about language and ideas and his love for Borges was promising. This would be great.
Perhaps it was reading Kerouac as a youth. Perhaps it was being brought up on fantasy books, an only child with an active imagination. But Keandre kept searching for something, some incite, some secret knowledge that might help transform his world. It never quite came and the disappointment was often a bitter poison that burnt through his body and lingered in his brain making it feel uncomfortable, slightly cold and annoying, like a badly fitting hat. But something was going to happen, ‘isn’t it?’ Keandre asked himself as he scanned the commercial estates. They passed a KFC and his stomach ached for dinner.
Like most things, Keandre hadn’t found the energy or time, or perhaps the motivation, to read much more of the Beats’ work, beyond On the Road, Darma Bums and Burrough’s Naked Lunch. Nevertheless, this didn’t stop him trying to concoct a Beat prelude to the night ahead.
The landscape provides the rhythm for a mind relaxed into hearing its inner drum. A smashed window – a parking lot – people parking a lot the old jumper on the railing over the city bypass and we pass by. It’s all there with unmistakable clarity a typical ugliness pungent enough to kick the nerves into a steady pulsing sweating frenzy. The car with the parcel-taped headlight is a flavour digested and absorbed into words an aspirin thrown into a waterfall. Steel shutters with graffiti on them are truly harder than the lines of text into which the writer writes – yet they are the same basis for poetry – a presence that goes beyond the comfort of a page to the real heat of life.
An immediate and heady brew of neglect and downtrodden strife that Austin Metro does proclaim. And here stands a bouncer outside a liqueur store at 4 pm. There is certain beautiful brutality in these things – embossed with jobseekers allowances and squeezed by malignant segregation but the beauty is that is possible to also see softness in the scheme of things. The general busybodies who busy their bodies as if to some higher requirement like bees working the hive say something of it – the groups of youths pressing faces one into the other to sprout this or that remark in the give and take of sparring conversations about anything but polite content – full of everything of being young and striving to be. Retain a decency.
Odd details detach themselves and fix in the mind – particularly looking out from the bad light of this tawdry bus interior – the holy warmth of living rooms draws you in. Lace curtains delicate membranes drawn from without to within reminding of the fragile preservation of family life. When such soft things touch you – you are reminded that despite a History where people have killed other people – there is the gentleness – perhaps not recorded in words of those wanting to protect and nursing those they love.
Death comes to everyone and when you realise your own mortality it’s then the passion for life hits you. Sometimes there’s an unbearable sense of missing those you love. Life is fast and furious and fleeting – it often seems like forever but nothing is forever and understanding THAT is the only thing that might bring about a greater altruism – an altruism that cannot to be held ransom.
As the sky darkens and we watch as from a height the small figures walking dreamily around a large expanse of water under the watchful gaze of crazy old Cave Hill – the hill that some say inspired Swift to write about Gulliver because it looks like a giant head – a final thought comes to mind. All we leave behind is a foot print. But many foot prints wear pathways and set up more permanent tracks and avenues that thereon influences where others tread. That’s the kind of pressure the dead place on the living – the tread of millions is a groove that then repeats on those who live and stumble down the same good and bad tracks. It’s hard to know what change can be brought about – other than a kind of slow gradual meandering or change given by some general incline or sudden – natural obstacle. But it should be remembered at least, that a footprint is at best the absence of a foot.